that doesn't lead to jihad
Text by Daniele Bellocchio
Pictures by Marco Gualazzini
Islam that doesn’t lead to jihad
It is a hypnotic song. A pounding, almost indistinct sound that the winds of Bol carry through the streets. The percussive rhythm, the long and baritonal notes of the horns and the high voices of women become clearer while walking through the village lanes towards the music. A brick wall of mud and straw slabs prevent you from seeing or understanding what is happening, but then, passing through a gate, the show appears in all its extraordinary mystic: this land is in the territory of Boko Haram, the jihadist faction that seeks the create terror through the enforcement of Sharia law, thus annihilating each and every form of cultural and artistic expression. In spite of this, dozens of men and women are playing, singing and dancing in a semicircle.
Stamping and moving, bodies touching and intertwining, creating plumes of dust that swirl around in the air, losing themselves in a dance which expresses this conspicuous desire, which cannot be hidden, but manifests itself, through a tornado of sound, smiles and excited expressions.
There are beautiful women that would seduce even an angel, possessing the musicians with their beauty. It is all incredible and extraordinary, because the banks of Lake Chad is the territory of the African Caliphate, and this show is a demonstration of willpower, performed by a population that will not accept living in fear, and will continue to challenge the mania and authoritarianism of the black flags, through pride of their own traditions.
The semicircles grows larger, the musicians gather all the air in their lungs and blow their horns, the women with swaying veils, earrings and necklaces produce a continuous tinkle, which remains suspended in the air, until Youssouf Mamadou Affono rises from a handcrafted throne, leader of the canton of N’Guela and the organiser of this ceremony.
His rising is welcomed with a wave of shouted celebrations, bows and kisses. Wrapped in a turban and leaning on a stick, he greets his people and then, accompanied by his men, steps away from the uproarious celebrations in order to conduct our interview: “Since 2014 we have faced a serious crisis due to this sect of Boko Haram and these terrorists who want to impose Islam, that is not the real Islam: they want to impose a dictatorship. Dance and music have always been part of the Muslim world, they are instruments of expression, of joy and also faith. In a moment like this, in which we are under attack from terrorists, it is important to maintain our culture and our traditions.
It is a means for us to resist and to demonstrate that we are not willing to give in to violence and fear.” Continuing to speak on the situation, the canton leader added: “We as the local authority are trying by every means available to confront the problem of terrorists by our own means and our own possibilities. Another important group we have created in order to try and reduce the attacks is the self-defence committee, made up of groups of citizens that voluntarily control and patrol cities and villages, in an attempt to prevent bloodshed and massacres. They are our heroes.”
What Canton Chief Youssouf Mamadou Affono said could be seen on Thursday, the day of the week in which the Bol market is held. Camel caravans leave their encampments in the dessert, heading into the city to sell their merchandise, at the same time the women that live on the islands disembark onto the shores of the city, bringing with them containers with fish and food. The roads of entrance into Bol and the port however, are barricaded by groups of voluntary citizens and some men from the Chadian army. As the traders approach, they are separated into lines, to be search and made to empty their bags.
All of the sacks in the trader’s carts or tied to their camels are searched, the pots containing fish are overturned and the young women with plastic bottles filled with milk are forced to drink it in front of the security officers. “We cannot allow for any detail to be overlooked. There could be hidden poison or some kind of liquid to carry out massacres inside one of these bottles. Boko Haram does not hesitate in acting by any means available to them, and so we cannot afford to lower our guard.” says Zara Adoim, leader of one of of the patrols of the watch committee. “We know all too well that every moment we are working at a checkpoint could be our last. If a suicide bomber was to arrive, they would instantly pull the trigger. However if we are not willing to make this sacrifice for our people, it would mean that we are giving in to terror, and this is not what we want!”.
The fight against terrorism in Chad has many faces, not just that of the military; in fact, the sub-Saharan country is the first state in Africa to have opened a center dedicated to deradicalization and the prevention of extremism. Il CEDPE, le Centre d’ètude pour le developpement et la prèvention de l’extrèmisme, has a base in a hidden building in the outer quarter of N’Djaret, in the capital N’Djamena, Ahmad Yacoub, president and founder, tells me while seated at his desk: “The founding of this center is tied closely my personal life. When I was younger I was enlisted by rebels from the FROLINAT (National Liberation Front of Chad).
I was only a child and so was manipulated; today the same situation is afflicting many young people, and not just those being forced to enter Boko Haram. The terrorists make promises of money, food and eternal glory in order to recruit men, women and even children.” The president, at the end of his guerrilla experience was able to resume his studies, eventually becoming a professor of Sociology, continued in saying: “I have formed a team of researchers whose purpose is to interview these former rebels.
We research how indoctrination takes place and then we proceed in two ways: on the one hand working with those who have have managed to leave these terrorist groups, and have the chance to return to a normal life, and on the other trying to prevent and hinder the proliferation of Boko Haram. We travel to villages and school, talking with these groups in order to describe and show how the methods of persuasion used by terrorists are all lies and how what they assert about the Holy Book is false.”